Get this: I just found out last night that there’s going to be a new TV drama series called Black Box, about a famed neuroscientist who has a magic touch with out-of-control patients and a big, bad secret: she suffers from bipolar disorder.
Naturally, I’m looking forward to the premier because I want to see how the producers handle bipolar as part of the story line. I know a little about the show Homeland with Claire Danes, but not being a subscriber to Showtime, I’ve never seen it. Black Box will run on Thursday night at 10 PM.
I hope this series will portray the character of Dr. Catherine Black as realistically as possible. I’ve seen a few previews, and from what I can tell, her manic episodes are pretty extreme. She has a very maternal psychiatrist (Vanessa Redgrave) who warns her in one clip that if her disease were to become known, she could lose her job; while I hope that scene doesn’t reinforce the stigma that’s already out there, it’s certainly not an unusual occurrence in the working world.
Basically, I hope the show won’t be a rewarming of old stereotypes of bipolar individuals as fragile people who are apt to spin out of control at any time. I remember when Sally Field played Maura Tierney’s mom in a recurrent guest role on ER a number of years back; her character was also bipolar and she was always weeping, threatening suicide, running away, or slobbering all over her daughter and begging her to forgive the latest bad behavior. I think Ms. Field did a great job with the material she was given to work with, but the overall picture left a lot to be desired.
Then there was a character on the spin-off of Gray’s Anatomy, called Private Practice, who was violent and completely unpredictable whenever she was manic. Again, this did nothing to help ease the judgmentalism attached to mental health diagnoses, and I was relieved when they finally carted the poor woman off to the hospital for the last time. (And that was before I knew I was bipolar myself.)
Now, I know it’s got to be difficult to portray a serious mental illness sensitively while making it authentic and even gritty, like it is out here in the real world. Bipolar disorder is hard to fathom even for those of us who live with it; for those who don’t, it’s impossible, so producing a TV show whose lead character has it must be extremely challenging. I do hope the people in charge of this one have done their homework, for it could literally help lead the way to social acceptance of mental illness as a legitimate medical problem and give hope to millions of sufferers.
That’s a tall order, even for a drama series dealing with some pretty serious issues aside from the lead character’s mental health challenges. The show starts April 24th on ABC. I’ll be there. 🙂